Thursday, December 9, 2010

Image from
The National Science Foundation and the O’Donnell Foundation has given grants totaling $2.5 million to PhET Interactive Simulation Project to design 35 online simulations specifically for middle grade science education. The simulations will demonstrate how scientific concepts apply in real world scenarios. Once the simulations are created they will be available free to all science class students to enhance the curriculum.

According to Kathy Perkins, director of the PhET project, during middle school students “either get excited by science or turned off” and a goal of the project is to “make science classes both more effective and more fun.” The simulations will allow students to take the lead in conducting science experiments and help students visualize complex phenomena. Teachers can use the simulations in a variety of learning environments from class lectures, collaborative lab work to individual assignments for the students.

PhET was founded at the University of Colorado at Boulder in 2002 for college and high school science courses and in an effort to improve STEM education at all levels these new simulations will target middle grade students to improve math and science education. Another benefit to the PhET simulations is the reduced costs in expensive materials and lab equipment for schools while providing a nonthreatening learning environment for the students.

The simulations can be run from online or downloaded to the computer, CD or USB. What a great way for students to learn. Instead of only watching or being involved in a lab experiment once, taking notes and trying to remember everything that happened the students can now replay the simulation over and over gaining knowledge and insight. Each simulation includes the main topics covered, content vocabulary, learning goals, teaching ideas, software requirements, and a choice of language translations.

To read this article:

To visit the project site:

To view the library of simulations:

Monday, December 6, 2010

Designing Competency-Based Pathways for Next Generation Learners

I recently read a report from iNACOL on designing competency based pathways for K-12 education.  Many parts of this report could be incorportated by teachers into their classrooms now.  Although I will not cover the entire report I wanted to highlight the three design principles from this report.

Susan Patrick and Chris Sturgis just released a report giving details of what competency-based pathways means for the next generation of learners and “provides an understanding of K-12 education policies and practices for implementing student-centered learning.” According to the report the “challenge is to design competency-based pathways so that the pathways replace the time-based system with a set of practices that propel students toward mastery of college and career-ready skills.”  There are three design principles of Competency-based Pathways. 

First Design Principle
Students Advance upon Mastery

The report defines student mastery in the following ways:
  • Once students can demonstrate what they have learned by applying specific skills and content they are ready to advance to more advanced work. Students do not learn at the same time at the same level and this first design principle is based on this premise. Regardless of age, when a student demonstrates mastery they are ready to move ahead. In the United Kingdom this type of learning is called “organizing education around ‘stage not age.’”
  • Students need to be challenged but not overwhelmed by the level of required coursework. Students need to be active, engaged learners progressing at their own pace.
  • Students should demonstrate mastery of key concepts and skills through multiple demonstrations of learning.
  • All students need to achieve at an “A” or “B” level. If not, the student should “redo” and “try again” until key concepts and skills are learned. This means that students will complete courses at different times and not necessarily at the end of a semester or school year.
  • For students to demonstrate mastery and earn course credits teachers will need to create standards of proficiency for courses.
To meet the needs of all students and create learning options for all students teachers will need to provide a variety of learning experiences for students with online learning, student-centric, and competency based approaches. At the same time we need to make sure that students have 21st century skills for a global economy – critical thinking, problem-solving, communication, collaboration, creativity and innovation. To ensure 21st century readiness for all students teachers will need to make sure that all students are mastering key concepts and skills by demonstrating in multiple ways what they have learned. What have your students mastered in your class?

Second Design Principle
Explicit and Measurable Learning Objectives That Empower Students

Courses should be designed into measurable learning objectives with students taking responsibility for their learning thereby increasing student engagement and motivation.
  • Teachers should become facilitators and coaches guiding the students. Teachers should provide a broad range of instructional practices – student-centric, online and competency-based focused on formative assessments.
  • Learning becomes modular with students mastering learning objectives providing students with a sense of progress and accomplishment.
  • Students should have access to formal and informal learning opportunities inside and outside of the classroom. Students should have access to digital content and be provided with mentors as needed.
Third Design Principle
Assessment Is Meaningful and a Positive Learning Experience for Students

Formative assessments should be student-centered and aligned to the learning objectives with students receiving immediate feedback when the assessment occurs. By providing immediate feedback students should be encouraged to return to difficult concepts and skills until mastery is achieved in each module. I think there are lots of teachers who go over a test to talk about items that students missed but I’m not sure how much reteaching is really happening in classrooms today.
  • There should be a strong emphasis on formative assessment that drives instruction. Schools should have learning management systems integrated with information management systems so teachers can see where students are struggling to better design learning objectives. These systems can also help principals identify where teachers are having difficulty teaching certain concepts.
  • What is mastery and proficiency? Teachers need to understand what proficiency will be for specific learning objectives and what competencies need to be mastered for course completion.
  • Can students demonstrate proficiency through multiple demonstrations of learning? Students should be assessed and show proficiency through formative assessments, digital learning tools, performance-based assessments, presentations, and peer-to-peer instruction.
  • Students should only progress with they have demonstrated A or B level work. Grades can be categorized in these levels:
    1. An “A” would mean mastery or high performance
    2. A “B” would mean proficient
    3. A “C” would mean novice or still working towards proficiency
    4. Any grade lower that a “C” means the student will continue to work until they can demonstrate mastery.
  • Once a student completes a course and demonstrates proficiency they may be assessed for Advanced Placement (AP) courses. This should be offered throughout the school year instead of once a year so students can move immediately to a higher level of studies. This means that when students are allowed to work at their own pace and not move on until mastery is achieved teachers will have students completing courses at different times throughout the school year so advanced placement tests should be offered throughout the year.
From these principles the first change I see is the need for teachers to only accept student mastery before allowing students to advance to new learning objectives.  Students need to work at their pace and be given multiple ways to learn from online learning, student-centric, and competency based approaches.

Do teachers understand the learning styles of their students?
  • Visual        *    Auditory        *    Tactile / Kinesthetic
Teachers will need to understand multiple intelligences and the seven different ways students use to demonstrate intellectual ability:
  • Visual/Spatial Intelligence – tend to think in pictures and need to create mental images to retain information
  • Verbal/Linguistic Intelligence – highly developed auditory skills and tend to think in words rather than pictures
  • Logical/Mathematical Intelligence – ability to use reason, logic and numbers making connections between pieces of information
  • Bodily/Kinesthetic Intelligence – express themselves through movement and have a good sense of balance and eye-hand coordination
  • Musical/Rhythmic Intelligence – tend to think in sounds, rhythms and patterns and are extremely sensitive to environmental sounds
  • Interpersonal Intelligence – tend to see things from the other person’s point of view and are great organizers
  • Intrapersonal Intelligence – tend to self-reflect and recognize their own strengths and weaknessess
Howard Garner, Multiple Intelligences

The second big change I perceive will be changing from teacher-led classes to the teacher becoming a facilitator and coach to the students guiding them through learning experiences using printed content, digital content and various technologies. I think many teachers still feel if they are not providing all the information in the correct sequential order that students will not learn.

The third big change I see is resistance from teachers to allow students to complete courses at their pace at various times throughout the school year. If a student completes all 2nd grade math competencies by November then will the student begin 3rd grade math competencies in December? I realize this creates more work for the teacher but the student could go to a 3rd grade class for math.  I can see in an online course where collaboration between students may suffer if there are only a few students in the course all working at their pace but the online instructor will need to maintain participation, focusing and guiding discussions, providing feedback and keeping students motivated.

The fourth change will be in providing teachers the materials, technology and skills to teach in multiple ways and not just reteach the same material in the same way. Many teachers will need training and support to differentiate instruction and make these changes.
From this report I wanted to focus on teaching strategies that teachers could do now in their classrooms:
  • student mastery
  • being facilitators and coaching students
  • providing meaningful assessments with immediate feedback
Everyone agrees that the overall achievement of US students needs to improve and this report from iNACOL provides one idea of how to redesign education so that it works for all students.

To read the entire report please click on the link below:

Friday, December 3, 2010

Next Generation Learning

Next Generation Learning is the concept of using technology to develop learning models and personalized education pathways. Currently in the United States nearly 30 percent of students don’t complete high school and only 42 percent of students graduate from college with a bachelor’s degree. How will we address the learning styles and needs of the next generation of students?

The publication Next Generation Learning was produced by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. “The foundation has invested $5 billion in programs and partnerships in the United States to address” the challenges faced by our education system and lack of qualified workers that is impacting our economy. The foundation supports the Common Core State Standards Initiative that has produced a set of standards for states to follow for language arts and math skills that students need to learn to be successful in college. Based on these core standards the foundation is investing “in the development of instructional materials that align with those standards” and “assessment tools that provide real-time feedback to students and teachers.”

The goal of developing innovative learning models and personalized pathways is to provide “access to high-quality, relevant and engaging content in a variety of forms” to all students. The elements of the next generation learning model include:
  • Effective assessment tools that align with college preparation standards and clear postsecondary learning objectives
  • Engaging digital content
  • Algorithms and match student needs with content and delivery methods
  • Technology-enable professional development tools
  • Learning management platforms that integrate and deliver these components
Technology-based solutions can be a cost-effective way to provide effective learning solutions for schools across the nation in this time of tight school budgets.

Next Generation Learning Challenges is a nonprofit partnership that aims to “improve college readiness and college completion through the use of technology and digital media.” The main objectives are:
  • To encourage more investment in technology-enabled solutions that improve the quality of learning and student outcomes for low-income students
  • To support a portfolio of solutions that demonstrate evidence of success
  • To encourage large institutions to partner with innovators to support adoption of their solutions
  • To establish a network of collective learning among innovators and adopters
The Next Generation Learning Challenges is led by EDUCAUSE in partnership with the League for Innovation in the Community College, iNACOL the International Association for K-12 Online Learning the Council for Chief State School Officers, and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation with other funders. It is the belief of these organizations that providing the intelligent use of technology in combination with new emerging evidence-based models of teaching and learning will improve college readiness and college graduation rates in the United States providing a workforce of qualified employees.

To read this publication please go to:

To learn more about the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation please go to:

Monday, November 29, 2010

Technology Fun in December

Image from
 Many times some of the most fun that students can have is with colored pencils, crayons, markers, paper and glue. I enjoy reading the monthly Crayola newsletter to see the list of projects and craft ideas.  This month as I read thru the list I started thinking of how many of these projects students and teachers could create with available technology. 

The first one that caught my eye was taking old CDs and turning them into ornaments. Instead of students painting over the CDs, create a double circle template in Word or a double circle template in Publisher. Let students use the drawing tools, adding shapes and colors to each circle on the page, print and glue to both sides of the CD.  Students and teachers can create all kinds of cards and projects with Publisher, uploading pictures and adding their own creative touch.

There is lots of coloring pages, crafts and educational ideas at Crayola. Teachers should check out the resources provided by Crayola:  lesson plans, art tips and techniques, Crayola Dream Makers, success guides, parents & teachers as partners, certificate maker and color science.  Dream Makers is a guide that provides fun and creativity to standards-based learning lessons for Language Arts, Social Studies, Mathematics, and Science. Currently Dream Makers is not available for North Carolina Standards but the free sample guides will show a subject area lesson complete with objectives, background information, resources, assessment and suggestions to extend the lesson.

Crayola continues to build lesson plans for all ages. If you haven’t looked at the lesson plans in a while here’s a list of available lesson plans by grade levels.
  • Grades K-3      695 lessons
  • Grades 4-6       929 lessons
  • Grades 7-12     452 lessons
  • Special Needs students - 355 lessons

To check out all resources for educators please go to:

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Inquiry-Based Projects for the Classroom

Inquiry-based projects provide students with authentic science experiences. Here are some suggestions for creating and using inquiry-based projects with your students.
  1. Action-Reaction blog – is it real or fake? Guided inquiry and student-centered learning to foster the development of critical thinking skills. Students may collaborate, be self-directed, communicate and analyze through inquiry-based projects.
  2. Connecting News with National Science Education Standards blog encourages middle school teachers to use current science events as teaching opportunities.
  3. Quantum Progress blog building metacognition curriculum for physics classes.
  4. Snapshot Science provides ideas and resources for biology, chemistry and physics teachers.
  5. WCYDWT – Science blog provides a collection of rich media that teachers can use as starting points for classroom inquiry.
To see all suggested websites please go to Edutopia:

Friday, November 19, 2010

How to turn current events into Real-World Projects

Teachers have been looking for ways to do more than talk about current events in class by finding ways to apply science and math to real-world situations. But “how do you plan for academically rigorous projects that are ‘ripped from the headlines’?”

Here are some suggestions from the article.
  1. Think about creating a project where your students take the role of the problem solvers, designing a rescue within a certain amount of time. Use the rescue of the 33 trapped Chilean mine workers as an example. Have students think about what they would need to know about human biology and conditions to sustain life Include knowledge about geology and what experts they would need to create a plan to rescue the miners.
  2. To bring real life events closer to students teachers are implementing projects where students discuss and see events thru other students who live at the effected site, such as the Gulf oil spill in Louisiana.
    • Not only can student talk and share pictures from the site but students can discuss the “psychological, economic, and ecological dimensions of the crisis.”
    • Does your school use Skype, webcams or pen pals to reach students around the world?
    • Voices on the Gulf provides a blog forum for students to discuss ongoing issues related to the Gulf coast -
    • Project-Based Learning Camp provided by Edutopia provides a toolkit real world projects using various software programs: Delicious, Twitter, Wallwisher -
  3. Look at real-life events where students live, such as water shortages, forest fires, water pollution and how polluted or dwindling resources affect their lives, the eco system and what that means for the future. Have students create multimedia presentations to present to the community or to run on local TV cable.
  4. Students may also want to take part in service projects where they live or to provide help to victims in other countries.
  5. Here’s a list of resources for teachers and students to use when developing service-learning or community service projects.
To read the entire article from Edutopia please go to:

Monday, November 8, 2010

Ten Tips for Personalized Learning via Technology

How is technology being used in the classroom for more effective teaching, differentiated instruction and to meet the needs of every student in the school? This article outlines how one elementary school uses technology. Each classroom in the school has an interactive whiteboard, eight computers and access to digital cameras, flip cameras, remote-response clickers and PDAs.

Here are some tips from the teachers on how they use this technology with their students.
  1. Deliver instruction through multiple forms of media
    • Teachers access instructional videos, audio clips, animations, instructional games and other available online resources.
  2. Gather and use immediate feedback on students’ understanding
    • Teachers use remote-response clickers with practice questions to see where to customize subsequent lessons to meet the needs of all students.
  3. Give students options
    • Using digital media students are allowed to show learning through a variety of media tools.
  4. Automate basic-skills practice
    • Teachers use Study Island and EducationCity to identify weaknesses in student skills and then assign lessons according to the students’ needs.
  5. Practice independent work skills
    • Teachers have procedures so students know how to use the technology and what to do if they have a question.
  6. Create a weekly “must-do” and “may do” list
    • Teachers provide a list of personalized “must-do” tasks that all students need to complete and a list of “may-do” tasks that students may choose from so all students always have something to do.
  7. Pretest students’ knowledge before each unit
    • Teachers assess prior knowledge and tailor lessons to each child’s needs.
  8. Be flexible when plans go awry
    • Teachers model good problem-solving behaviors and involve students in devising alternative approaches when technology isn’t available or not working.
  9. Let students drive
    • Teachers let students lead the lesson at the whiteboards giving them the opportunity to capitalize on their skills.
  10. Share the work of creating differentiated lessons
    • Teachers work together to plan units of study with activities to meet the needs of all students.
From this list of ideas think of ways to use technology to provide differentiated instruction, feedback and choices for all of your students? Also, how are you using technology to assist in planning with other teachers?

To read the entire Edutopia article:

Web2.0 Science Tools

Now that we have started the second nine-weeks of school I thought it would be helpful to offer some useful resources in science for middle and high school teachers.  This is just a short overview of the many sites included in this site. To view all the resources please go to:

General Science
  1. Google Earth – use Google Earth to fly to places around the world. Check out the Showcase of tours and videos or the Gallery of images.
  2. Google Earth Lessons
  3. Science NetLinks – resources for K-12 science, standards-based Internet experiences for students. Check out the Lessons, Tools, Resources and Benchmarks.
  1. Get Body Smart – an online textbook about human anatomy and physiology. The site currently covers nine subject areas.
  2. Science & Nature: Interactive games to better understand the human anatomy
Astronomy & Space
  1. Hubblesite – explore astronomy from the Hubble, gallery of images, recent discoveries, and learning resources.

There are also resources for the following areas in science:
  1. Kids’ Space Sites
  2. Biology
  3. Chemistry
  4. Earth Science
  5. Physics

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

"Race to the Top" Winners Were Announced Today

North Carolina is a Winner !!!

According to CNN the District of Columbia, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Maryland, Massachusetts, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, and Rhode Island are all to receive a portion of the $3.4 billion remaining in the "Race to the Top" fund for education.  The second round of competition began with 35 states applying and in July 19 states were listed as finalists.  Each finalist sent representatives to Washington in August to present their case, according to CNN.

What did each state have to do to qualify for "Race to the Top"?  Each state had to present a plan of school reforms in four main areas:
  1. Turning around low performing schools
  2. Adopting college and career ready standard
  3. Effective teachers and principals
  4. Using data systems to support student achievement
So how will $3.4 billion be divided between the states?  There is a limit how much money each state can receive based on the student population and North Carolina will receive $400 million.  For North Carolina the "Race to the Top" money will be overseen by Dr. Harrison and the State Board, and Superintendent Atkinson will be responsible for implementing the approved program according to Governor Bev Perdue's press release.

The link below gives the breakdown of money for each state:

Other related links
  1. Charlotte
  2. North Carolina Race to the Top Website
  3. Race to the Top Announcement from President Obama
  4. Governor Bev Perdue's Press Release

Thursday, August 12, 2010

ActivExpressions - Handheld Formative Assessments

Student Response Systems (SRS) will be used in many classrooms this fall as a tool for assessment and to boost student participation. But what if you’re the student who knows the material and can easily answer the questions? You have to wait till everyone answers the question before the teachers moves on to the next question and that's time that could be used in a better way.

Promethean has developed a solution to this problem and has unveiled a new version of software that will take the SRS technology to a new level. The company calls it “real-time personalized intervention.” Basically the new technology will send a question directly to each students ActivExpression “clicker” device. The student will answer the question and immediately get a new question with no waiting time. The system can also hone in on each student’s abilities and deliver personalized questions that target certain abilities.

The new software will give teachers the ability to do handheld formative assessment in real time that adapts to the pace of each student according to Tony Cann, Promethean Director. Teachers are able to track the progress of each student, send questions to each student’s ActivExpression and allow students to work at their own pace. After each test teachers can review the responses to see strengths and weaknesses in the class to see areas to be reviewed and content that has been mastered.

Tony Cann says the system is capable of delivering 15,000 to 20,000 self-paced questions per minute and the software is a free upgrade for current ActivExpression users. This should be a great software upgrade for teachers who use the ActivExpressions.

To learn more about ActivExpressions go to:

To read this article from eSchoolnews go to:

Image from Promethean


Friday, August 6, 2010

Brainstorming and Mind Mapping

Lots of teachers use brainstorming as a way for students to share ideas and possible solutions to a problem. Always define the problem to make sure students clearly understand the problem. Make sure all ideas are written down.

There are four basic rules to brainstorming:
  1. Focus on quantity – the greater number of ideas produced generates a greater chance of producing an effective solution.
  2. Withhold criticism – focus on extending ideas and suspending judgment.
  3. Welcome unusual ideas – help students to look at ideas from different perspectives and not make assumptions.
  4. Combine and improve ideas – help students to combine ideas to form a single better idea.
Mind Mapping Steps:
  1. Once all brainstormed ideas have been written down students will move to mind mapping. At this point students should begin identifying relationships between the ideas and key points by drawing lines, arrows, or using colors.
  2. Students should begin finding contrasts/similarities, cause/effect relationships. These ideas can be written down beside the linking lines.
  3. Students will use the map to arrange all the items into a logical order.
Here are some free tools for Brainstorming and Mind Mapping
  1. Slick Plan – create sitemaps and flow charts
  2. Thinklinkr – fully collaborative outliner
  3. Webspiration coming this fall – map ideas and organize outlines – subscription
  4. Kidspiration and Inspiration software are used in our school system for all K-12 students.
  5. Diagrammr – create and share diagrams by writing sentences
  6. Imagination Cubed – draw mind maps online, can be used with whiteboards
  7. Edistorm – real time mind mapping and sticky notes
  8. Education Eye – brainstorming with a search engine
  9. Mind42 – collaborative mind mapping
  10. Mindmeister – mind mapping that can be embedded into a site
  11. Mindomo – detailed mind mapping site with web 2.0 features
As teachers begin creating fall lesson plans check out these sites for ways to incorporate technology into brainstorming and mind mapping with your students. 

To read this article please go to Tech&Learning:

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Transforming Education

Technology enabled classrooms should have self-directed learners and teachers who can manage their classrooms. Every child learns differently and children should be allowed to learn at their own pace. If we expect students to learn how to solve problems, collaborate and communicate then we need a new way for them to learn through the use of technology. To prepare for the 21st century learning must take place inside and outside the classroom using technology to improve the learning outcomes for all students.

Students need to be self-directed learners who “select, manage, and assess their own learning activities” and are given the freedom to pursue learning “at any time, in any place, through any means, at any age.” Teachers would “emphasize skills, processes and systems instead of content coverage and tests.” So how can this be done?

The article listed three essentials:
  1. Learning must move from teacher-centered to student-centered – this isn’t a new concept in education but how many teachers really know what this means and how to accomplish this in the classroom?
  2. Students must take charge of their own learning – again not a new concept, but how many students want to be in charge of their own learning? How do we create an environment where students want to be involved learners?
  3. Assessments must be formative and summative – formative assessments provide feedback to the students by addressing learning gaps showing teachers where to re-teach concepts. Summative assessments show the proficiency level reached by the student.
The article outlined four ideas.
  1. Create – teacher created multimedia lessons – hands on, collaborative learning activities
  2. Teach – keep students focused on the lesson and learning
  3. Learn – allow students time to collaborate, interact with the materials and create meaning from the lesson
  4. Assess – formative assessments giving students feedback throughout the lesson – re-teaching and providing additional materials as needed
One of the best ways for teachers to accomplish these goals is through classroom-management system software but what if your school district doesn’t use a classroom-management system? Teachers could begin by building more student-centered activities through project-based learning. As I read through the following list it was easy to see the similarities.

Project-Based Learning outline from Wikipedia:
  1. Organized around an open-ended Driving Question or Challenge – (Create)
  2. Creates a need to know essential content and skills – (Teach)
  3. Requires inquiry to learn and/or create something new – (Learn)
  4. Requires critical thinking, problem solving, collaboration, and various forms of communication – (Learn)
  5. Allows some degree of student voice and choice – (Learn)
  6. Incorporates feedback and revision – (Assess)
  7. Results in a publicly presented product or performance – (Assess)
I compared this list to a recent posting I wrote about project-based learning.  Here are the steps as outlined from Edutopia.

Six Steps for Planning a Successful Project
  1. Develop a compelling topic that covers state standards - (Create)
  2. Develop or design a comprehensive final product that each student will have a role in creating - (Create & Learn)
  3. Involve professional organizations and professionals from the community to connect the academic study with the real world - (Teach & Learn)
  4. Identify and organize the major learning resources (Teach & Learn)
  5. Coordinate calendars and allow enough time for each component to be done well - (Learn)
  6. Plan a final experience or culminating event - (Assess)
You can find lots of information about project-based learning, problem-based learning and inquiry-based learning on the internet. To help teachers find ways to transform education, build 21st century skills and prepare all students for the future take a look at these links.

Project-Based Learning Links
Project-Based Learning for the 21st Century-
Project-Based Learning from Edutopia -
Project-Based Learning -
Problem-Based Learning -
Build Project-Based Learning Checklists and Evaluations -

To read the article Transforming Education:

Monday, July 12, 2010

Robot Technology

In Los Angeles a young boy with autism is learning to mimic the moves of a robot. Around the world computer scientists are developing robots that can engage people, teaching simple skills, household tasks, vocabulary words and imitation. Researchers are also looking at robotics as instructors for foreign language or for developmental problems such as autism.

South Korea is using hundreds of robots as teacher aides in the classroom. According to Patricia Kuhl, co-director of the Institute for Learning and Brain Sciences, “with the right kind of technology at a critical period in a child’s development, they (robots) could supplement learning in the classroom.”

In one study children with autism spent thirty minutes with a robot when programmed to be socially engaging and another thirty minutes when the robot was programmed to behave randomly. When programmed to be socially engaging the children spent more time directly interacting with the robot. What does this tell us? When the robot acted more human the children responded better to the robot.

Timing the robot’s responses was also very important. If the robot responded too fast or too slow to the child this disrupted the interaction between them so the physical rhythm of the robot is crucial. When the robot was able to bob or shake in rhythm with an autistic child, the child would be less fearful to engage with the robot. “Simple mimicry seems to build a kind of trust, and increase sociability”, said Anjana Bhat, an assistant professor in the department of education.

For robots to be truly effective guides with children, robots will have to learn from students. According to Andrea Thomaz, assistant professor of interactive computing at Georgia Tech, if ”scientists could equip a machine to understand the nonverbal cues that signal “I’m confused” or “I have a question” — giving it some ability to monitor how its lesson is being received” then the robot could accumulate knowledge through experience.

Researchers would like to find ways that “robots can learn to learn, on their own and without instruction.” Then can a robot be programmed to be “responsive to the needs of a class, even an individual child.”

Not sure if a robot could replace a teacher, what do you think?
To learn more about the robots mentioned in this posting please check out the links below.
To read this article please click on one of the links below:

Images from Bandit Robot, CosmoBot Robot and Nao Robot sites.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Students Design World Fixing Solutions

Have you heard about Imagine Cup, the student technology competition? The competition was developed by Microsoft to encourage young people to use their imaginations, their passion and creativity to design technology innovations that can make a difference in the world today.

Each team is challenged to come up with solutions that improve health, reduce poverty or boost literacy based on the UN Millennium Goals. To learn more about the United Nations Millennium Development Goals -

The competition hopes to inspire more students to become interested in technical careers and prepare them for future careers. To view some of this year’s finalist videos click on the link and select a country -

The competition categories are: Software Design, Embedded Development, Game Design, Digital Media and IT Challenge. To read about each teams’ projects -

Although this is a global competition how can you inspire your students to become passionate about learning and making a difference in the world? What project-based activities could you do with your students next school year? Do you want to design a student-centered project from scratch or find project-based activities online? Here’s some help with available project-based ideas from the internet –
There are many other sites on the internet that guide teachers in developing project-based activities and many sites that offer examples of project-based activities. This summer is a great time to revamp your lesson plans and incorporate project-based activities throughout the school year.

To learn more about Imagine Cup -
To view videos from Imagine Cup 2010 -

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Project-Based Learning

I recently came across two articles and three videos dealing with project learning from Edutopia. We all know that students need to be engaged learners and project-based learning is not a new concept for teachers but many teachers may not fully understand how to create a meaningful project that includes all content areas. The video examples showcased a learning expedition where students and teachers spent up to a semester working on a learning project.

The first article Six Steps for Planning a Successful Project provides the steps and examples of how to create a project from beginning to final product. The next article “Five Questions to Ask Before You Start a Project” posed questions the teachers should consider to make sure there are enough resources and examples to make the project meaningful for all students.

Each of the videos detailed a project the students worked on and presented to parents and the community. The projects involved community resources, teachers from universities and experts in various fields. The learning expeditions were real for the students who interviewed people, took pictures in the community and presented the projects from their perspectives and point of view.

Here are the videos:
It’s important for teachers to remember that these learning expeditions can be tailored to fit the time and resources available in their communities. A learning project doesn’t have to include an entire grade level of teachers; a well-planned project could be carried out by a couple of teachers. Also, think about including technology resources such as Skype and available free software that could be utilized for the project. Students need to learn from real-world situations; students need to learn how to explore, problem-solve, collaborate and work as a team; teachers need to know how to use technology as a tool to change the nature of learning; and students who participate in learning expeditions will turn into investigators, problem-solvers, scientists, writers, artists, multimedia experts, presenters and communicators.

One guiding principle was prevalent throughout the articles and videos - after designing the learning project the teachers went through every step of the project, investigating, collaborating, designing and presenting a final product to the group. The teachers learned how to scaffold the tasks and learning of new skills so the students would be successful each step of the way through the learning expedition. This was a key factor in the success of the project – teachers taking the time to work through the learning project and completing a final product because what looks great on paper in reality may not work.

To read the articles and view the videos please go to Edutopia:

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Next Gen Learning Challenges

iNACOL is partnering with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to boost college readiness and college graduation rates. The project will “provide grants to innovators, build evidence of what works, and foster an engaged community of professionals committed to helping students and young adults prepare for college and successfully complete their postsecondary educations.”

The project will launch with a six-week Request for Comments period where people can share their knowledge and comments on the issues of helping students prepare and complete college. The conversations will discuss these challenges:
  • Visit the Next Gen Learning Challenges website at to learn about college readiness and completion in the United States
  • Contribute research, resources, and perspectives on the four challenges
  • Contribute ideas for future challenges, the next of which will focus on secondary education
  • Engage in discussion forums targeting key questions
  • Explore the challenges with your colleagues through workshops
Partners in the Next Gen Learning Challenges are:
  • Gates Foundation
  • League for Innovation in the Community College
  • International Association for K-12 Online Learning
  • Council of Chief State School Officers
  • William and Flora Hewlett Foundation
Later this summer the Next Gen Learning Challenges will solicit grant proposals for:
  • Deploying open core courseware
  • Deepening learner engagement through interactive, online technologies
  • Scaling blended learning
  • Mobilizing learning analytics
iNACOL and the Next Gen Learning Challenges believes that “technology can be a key tool for making learning more flexible, engaging, and affordable.”

To learn more about the Next Gen Learning Challenges go to:

Monday, June 21, 2010

Updated Google Internet Searching

In the recent issue of eSchoolNews I read a short article about Google Tunes Up It’s Internet Search Results. On the left of any search results people can find tools for reshuffling and filtering search results into specific categories. According to Google the changes were designed to encourage people to use Google’s search engine more frequently.

So here’s an example – I did a search for “Gulf of Mexico oil spill” and got about 27,000 results. My choices were listed under Everything and Any Time. It was easy to filter the search in Google by the categories and by the time frame posted.  Photos and videos could easily be viewed in threes or all at one time.  This would be a great tool for teachers and students to be able to select the type of media to view information and the time posted to either see the progressive history of a story or to read the most current posting.

To compare I did a search for “Gulf of Mexico oil spill" in Yahoo and I got 143,000,000 results that could be filtered by news source, photos, video or Twitter. The photos could be viewed three at a time using the scroll arrow or viewed by pages.  Last I did the same search in Bing receiving 13,000 results. The results could be filtered by News About, Images Of, Related Searches or Search History.  Bing brought up all images on one page which took some time to load. But the images could be filtered by size, layout, color, style, and people. The one feature I really liked in Bing was the ability to mouse over each video thumbnail to preview the video.

So depending on your needs each search engine offers choices for teachers and students.

To read the article from eSchoolnews go to:

Image from Google Internet Search

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Online Safety Report Discourages Scare Tactics

School’s out and thousands of students have a much deserved rest from school but how will these students spend their time online this summer? A federal online safety task force found that students who spend a large amount of time with social networking sites, text messaging and other ways to communicate are not influenced by scare tactics for Internet safety. The task force determined that educating students about appropriate online behavior and digital media use will enable students to evaluate potential online risks through digital citizenship and media literacy.

The Online Safety and Technology Working Group (OSTWG), created by the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, recommends creating a web-based clearinghouse of online safety education research and establishing industry best practices for effective internet safety education program.

The group pointed out that “the statistical probability of a young person being physically assaulted by an adult who they first met online is extremely low.” The Berkman Center Internet Safety Technical Task Force found that cases of adult –to-child sexual encounters on social networks usually involved teens who were aware that they were meeting an adult male while cyber bullying can start as early as second grade. Unfortunately many parents and teachers don’t sufficiently know how to teach digital citizenship to students.

With summer here, many students will spend hours online in social networking sites and on the internet. Without understanding the risks, many students will be on their own this summer to figure out the ethics, social norms, and civil behaviors that lead to good citizenship and internet safety according to the OSTWG. Parents need to know what sort of content and information will be accessible to students when they are online. So get involved, check out what students are doing online, ask questions about who they are meeting in social networking sites and talk to them about internet safety and cyber bullying.

To read the entire article from eSchoolNews go to:

To learn more about the Online Safety and Technology Working Group (OSTWG) go to:

To read the report Youth Safety on a Living Internet please go to:

To learn about the Nine Elements of Digital Citizenships go to:

Monday, June 7, 2010

Using Movie Maker with Your Students

How often do you use Movie Maker with your students? There are some great ways to use Movie Maker as part of a lesson presentation or as projects for your students. Here is a list of ideas taken from the Digital Learning Environments News - May 2010 edition:

Six Ways to Use Movies with Your Students
  1. Create a timeline that moves
    • Present a succession of historical events in a photo slide show with music from that period.
  2. Make your movie morph
    • For science class, present the stages of development in the life of a butterfly. Create a photo slide show with images you grab from
  3. Demonstrate things you can’t bring to class
    • Videotape feeding time for lions or gorillas at the zoo. Or capture the physics at play in a local skate park with still photos or video.
  4. Share the classics in a fresher way
    • Shoot video of various students reciting a phrase or two from a Shakespearean sonnet. String them together in a movie, and suddenly all eyes are on the screen. The whole class hangs on every famous word.
  5. Try a different angle for math
    • For math class, share all the ways that angles appear in everyday life, from a city skyscraper to the painted lines in the school parking lot to the countless angles at play on a pool table.
  6. Start a lively debate
    • Frame a debate topic by sharing the pros and cons of an issue with photos.
Here are some other great ideas for including Movie Maker in lessons and projects for your students:

Movie Maker Lessons & Movie Maker Worksheets by Lesson Planet

Techno Kids – Camp Technology Project

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Pixar University's Randy Nelson on Learning and Working in the Collaborative Age

A lot has been written about 21st Century Skills and jobs of the future but how do schools prepare students for jobs that don't exist yet and give students the needed skills for these job?  I recently saw this video from Edutopia by Randy Nelson, Dean of Pixar University. 

In this video Mr. Nelson explains what skills future employees will need and what schools must do to prepare students for new models in the workplace.  

The following is an outline from the video.
Use improv as a mechanisim to help with collaboration.  There are two core principles of improv.
  1. Accept every offer - if you don't accept the offer it goes no where
  2. Make your partner look good - always try to make your partner look good, not bad
    • It's called Plusing - take a piece of work and don't judge it - say, "here's where I'm starting, what can I do with this?"
    • How do I plus this? 
    • How do I accept the offer and make my partner look good?
How can students be ready for innovative jobs with innovative companies?  How can these innovative companies find someone who has a depth of knowledge that is able to do the job?  Many innovative companies will look for people who have seen failure and figured out how to turn it into something positive rather than those people who have avoided failure.  The core skill of innovators is error recovery not failure avoidance. 

Some predictors that innovative companies will look for:
  1. Depth - Proof of a portfolio verses the promise of a resume.  Students who are high achievers in school usually are high achievers in the workplace.
  2. Breadth - people who are extremely broad - people who are more interested in the job and learning than they are interesting - people who want to know what you know.
  3. Communication that involves translation - willing to work on communication as a destination, not a source, being able to communicate to your audience effectively.  People with a broad range of experiences can effectively communicate to several audiences.
  4. Collaboration means amplification - connecting a group of people who are listening to each other; interested in each other; bringing separate depths to the problem; and bringing breadth that gives them interest in the entire solution.  Collaboration allows people to communicate on multiple different levels - verbally, in writing, in feeling, in acting, in pictures, and helps them find the most articulate way to get the point across to a broad range of people so every person in the group can pull together. 
Schools have an untapped resource in their students.  Schools need to find ways to help students build leadership skills, problem-solving skills, collaboration skills and effective communication skills.  Students also need to be given the opportunity and guidance to learn how to turn failure into something positive.   All students need to be challenged to achieve mastery at school to become high achievers in their future careers.

To view the entire video:

Image from:

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Ten winners snag $1.7M total in digital competition

The MacArthur Foundation grants fund projects is an annual competition to inspire and find new ways to use digital media to support learning. This is the third year of the competition and 10 projects are selected each year sharing $1.7 million dollars. The article stated that the competition was announced in collaboration with President Obama’s “Educate to Innovate” initiative, challenging designers, inventors, entrepreneurs, and researchers to create education technology “learning labs” for the 21st century, with digital environments that promote building and tinkering in new and innovative ways.

The winners will use games, mobile phone applications, virtual worlds, and social networks to advance learning in the 21st century, the foundation said. Today’s students interact with other students around the world online, in social networks and video games and according to Connie Yowell, the foundation’s director “the competition helps them to identify and nurture the creation of learning environments that are relevant for kids today and will prepare them for a 21st-century workforce.”

Some of this year’s winners:
  1. Click! The Online Spy School: Engaging girls in STEM activities, peer networking and gaming
    • Combines social networking with a virtual laboratory for teen girls featuring a fictional spy school
    • This game is for learners ages 7 to 11, that encourage their interest in the environment as they explore their surroundings to create, collect, and monitor the health of virtual “bug” species
  3. Fab@School: A digital Fabrication Laboratory for the Classroom
    • Introduces K-12 students to the power of mathematical analysis and modeling, digital fabrication, and engineering by encouraging imaginative and collaborative experimentation, invention, design, and creation.
  4. Hole-in-the-Wall: Activity Based e-learning for Improving Elementary Education in India
    • The e-learning bridges the digital divide by reaching underserved youth in the developing world by installing over 700 internet enabled public Playground Learning Stations across India, Bhutan, Cambodia and Africa. The games promote experiential learning mapped to the prescribed primary curriculum across various subjects.
  5. Mobile Action Lab: Programming Apps for Collaborative Community Change
    • These labs network emerging entrepreneurs, social change agents, and top technologist with Oakland-based youth participants who propose, develop, and market online and mobile apps.
  6. Conservation Connection: From the West Side to the West Pacific
    • This project engaged American youth from the West Side of Chicago and Fijian youth in the West Pacific in stewardship of Fijian coral reefs through direct involvement in the scientific process
  7. MetroVoice: About/IN/
    • Youth in Los Angeles collaborate to write and produce videos and TV screen banners that explore aspects of their families, blocks, streets, and neighborhoods. These messages are then transmitted on TV screens on LA Metro buses transforming the buses into mobile learning labs.
  8. Nox No More: Connecting travel logs with simulation, gaming and environmental education
    • This online gave personalizes environmental education by linking learning to a player’s personal life to illustrate the positive impact of simple, everyday choices to save the planet from carbon emissions by providing the analysis of potential fuel savings by alternative transportation choices
To access the winners of this year’s competition and the past two years please go to: 

One of last year’s winners was Scratch & Share: Collaborating with Youth to Develop the Next Generation of Creative Software that won the BEST IN CLASS: Design. This winner created Scratch & Share as a way to enlist youth and teen online community members as active development partners, and allows them to share projects across mobile platforms, to integrate them into social media including Facebook and Twitter, and to remix them more seamlessly.  This school year our school system introduced Scratch to our students and I was able to watch one fourth grade class using Scratch to create interactive characters. The teacher said the students really enjoyed working with the program. I look forward to hearing from the teacher next school year as the students continue to work with Scratch creating interactive stories, games, music and art.

To read the entire article:

To learn more about Scratch:

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Have you heard about TweenTribune?

TweenTribune is a news site for tweens (ages 8-14) that posts daily news stories from a tween’s perspective. The stories are chosen by tweens who work with professional journalists. The tweens can also submit links to stories they would like to share and well as comment on any posted story. The site makes it easy for tweens to find current news stories, some off-beat stories and promotes the habit of reading and being well-informed.

Tweens are not required to submit any personal information and a login is not required for tweens to submit stories or post comments to stories. All comments are moderated and TweenTribune complies with the COPPA - the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act - as outlined by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).

Here’s a list of the topics tweens can choose from:

So how does this work?
Teachers create an account and register their classroom, then, the students sign up. Once the class begins using TweenTribune the site automatically generates the following pages:
  • The stories your class has commented upon
  • Individual comments by each student, on his or her own page
  • All comments by your students, in one report that can be sorted by students’ names, comments, or dates
  • Teachers can moderate, edit, or delete student comments before they’re published
Teachers can also print individual reports showing the comments posted to the news stories. Teachers can also comment on the student’s writing, analysis, or critical thinking. TweenTribune also has a Teacher’s Lounge where teachers can share ideas and lesson plans with other teachers around the world. There’s also a Top Ten Lesson Plans section for teachers.

As summer approaches I encourage teachers to check out this site, especially the Top Ten Lesson Plans to find ways to allow students to interact online with the news, and have forum-like discussions with other tweens from around the world. One teacher commented that she had found classes from Australia, Japan, Canada and Taiwan.

To check out the site:

Friday, May 21, 2010

Top 6 Technologies for the Next 5 Years

According to researchers from the 2010 Horizon Report K-12 Edition, cloud computing and gaming are among the six technologies that will have a major positive impact on K-12 education in the next few years. The article outlines key technology areas for the next five years has been broken down into technologies that will have an impact in the near futures, technologies in the early stages of adoption, and technologies that are further out.

Cloud computing and collaborative environments will have a significant impact on education. In the next two to three years game-based learning and mobile technologies will foster collaboration and engage students more deeply in the learning process. According to the article in the next four to five years augmented reality and discovery-based learning will have an impact on education. Augmented reality is the convergence of various media tools and mobile applications to create “a portable tool for discovery-based learning, enhancing the information available to students when visiting historical locations, doing field work, interacting with real-world objects, and paging through books.”

But there were challenges identified as critical –
  1. Inadequate digital media literacy training for teachers
  2. Out of date learning materials and teaching practices
  3. Lack of agreement on how education should evolve, despite widespread agreement that change is needed
  4. A failure of education institutions to adapt to informal education, online education, and home-based learning
  5. Lack of support or acknowledgement of the forms of learning that usually occur outside the classroom
Many schools have provided more computers, interactive boards, software applications and opportunities for students to enroll in online courses and within the regular school day teachers need to provide learning through real life experiences because students need to see the connections between the world, their lives and the school. Outside of the regular school day students are finding online resources, practicing skills using games and interacting with their peers through social networks. Students shouldn’t have to power down when they enter the school and not be able to communicate with the outside world.

To read the entire article written by David Nagel:

To read the 2010 Horizon Report K-12 Edition:

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Using videoconferencing to connect your class to the world

Video conferencing can be used to engage students in learning, build cultural understanding, learn from experts and reach homebound students. Here are several examples.

Connecting Students to Build Cultural Understanding
Teachers assist students in creating a list of questions to ask from any content area to build a better cultural understanding and build relationships with students from other countries. Students can learn about the history of that country, cultural foods, climate, religion, celebrations, language, school and other information from the country.
Check out the innovative project Michael Kaechele did with his 7th grade students using Skype:

Students Learn from Experts
Skype provides the Skype an Author Network for teachers to select an author to speak about their book with students. -
This is a great way to get students involved in reading and be able to ask questions about the book. Another great way to use Skype is to connect to leading experts in the field of science, technology, engineering or math to build interest and knowledge in STEM fields. Here is the link to a blog site that includes the Karl Fish video conference about Transparent Algebra with a group of students -

Think about the community colleges, universities and companies in your area that employ experts in many fields that would be of interest to your students.

Reaching Homebound Students
If the teacher’s classroom has a webcam and computer, and a homebound student has a computer and webcam then the student could be involved with the classroom as much as possible seeing, questioning and participating along with the other students.
How about the student or teacher who is traveling during the school year? Certainly sharing the sites and information about another country would be exciting for the students.

Rules for Videoconferencing
What rules do you need to follow for your school district in regards to using videoconferencing? Here are a few rules to think about before getting started.
  1. What rules—if any—does your school or district already have in place for videoconferencing?
    • Synchronous video conference may take more bandwidth than your school can handle. Check with the technology staff first.
  2. What rules — if any — does your district have for inviting guest speakers into your classroom?
    • What procedures do you need to follow before guest speakers may present to your students?
  3. What videoconferencing application are you planning on using?
  4. What other skills do your students need to learn in order to make videoconferencing a productive learning experience?
    • Pre-planning and preparing your students before the video conference is important. Consider these ideas:
      • Possible handout of do’s and don’ts with regard to questions, how they present themselves on camera, use of only first names, etc.
      • Formulate a list of questions with the students that will be used during the conference to keep the conversation focused.
      • How will be possible answers the students receive from the guest speaker change the way students thought about an issue or the work they are doing?
      • How will students report what they’ve learned?
  5. How will you go about finding partners to work with?
    • Just knowing there are thousands of teachers who would like to connect with other classrooms should encourage teachers to think about using videoconferencing as part of their lessons. Teachers need to decide on the learning outcomes from the video conference when considering a guest speaker.
      • To help students better understand the challenges from third world countries think about South America, Africa or Southeast Asia.
      • To help students better understand the differences in life and cultures think about capitalist or socialist country, possibly Europe.
  6. Where do you look for guest speakers and videoconferencing information?
To read the entire article from LeanNC by Bill Ferrite, please go to:

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Skype and Video Conferencing

I recently read the article, Web Conferencing Finds Elementary School Niche by Ian Quillen and wondered why more teachers didn’t include Skype in their lesson planning. So I began to look for Skype resources for teachers by beginning with a link from this article.

Web Chat Challenge -
The teacher used Skype to stay in touch with a student who moved to another state.  Skype has grown into a great learning experience for her students. Since this initial experience the teacher has set up meetings with other third grade students in all fifty states. The students keep a journal of what they learn and place stickers by each state visited on a map. Besides learning about the similarities and differences between their state and the visited state, students are also learning about time zones, how to communicate through technology, networking and teamwork skills according to Cherrie MacInnes, the teacher.

Skype an Author Network.
This site provides directions for teachers and librarians and for the authors. Teachers can look through the list of authors, select an author and preview a session from the author. The site offers a discussion forum, photos and videos. This is a great site for teachers and librarians to check out.

Skype - The Big Blog -  and
Good site to learn about Skype, how to download and setup Skype for your classroom.

The Fire Roars, Our Skype Concert-
During a Travis Wells’s Spring Instrumental Concert three composers from the pieces being performed talked with the performers, conductor and audience. What a great way to connect students to the composers.

Also take a look at the resources we have listed from our wiki site:

And the parent asks, “What did you learn on Skype today?”
This site provides several great reasons for using Skype in the classroom including a boy recovering from leukemia who attends class everyday from home using Skype.

Over the summer is a great time to find other schools interested in using Skype. Check out this Skype directory of interested schools in the United States.

Students can now connect with others around the world, explain and show what they’ve learned and/or Skype a musical performance to other students. Bringing the world to every child in every class through Skype is an exciting way to learn.