Digital Portfolio

Work complete for Wilkes-Discovery Master’s Program as of March 12, 2010

EDIM 508 Digital Media – Instructor: Lance Rougeux

“Digital Citizenship – Internet Safety”

Use of Glogster “US Constitution Grade 5” glog

Google Earth Virtual Field Trip – “Rainforests of the World Grade 3”

Blog entries for this class posted on this blog site.

EDIM 507 Using Technology to Support Creativity Instructor: Luke Lyons

  1. Reaction paper: “Steering a Course Toward Globalization in Teaching
  2. Reaction paper: “Working as a Team in 21st Century Education
  3. Reaction paper: “A Path to Global Awareness
  4. Technology Product Assessment: Classblogmeister
  5. Creativity Lesson Plans:” Rainforests of the World” and “Canada- Latin America Travel Video
  6. Final Project: “A Challenge to Act

EDIM 514 Internet Tools for Teaching – Instructor: Jacqueline Derby

  1. Campus fusion blog posts (Sorry, the site is no longer available.)
  2. Digital Story with a Cell Phone – “A Teacher’s Path” (Sorry, no longer available on

Contact Info:

Twitter @patti211
Linked In
class website


u04a1 Integrating Social Networking (EDIM514)

I attended the Classroom2.0Live session on Saturday, February 13, where Edmodo was explained by Jeff O’Hara, I planned to simply bookmark the site and come back to it perhaps for consideration next year. There were a number of aspects of the Edmodo platform that would be duplicating what we already had in place as far as teacher and student communication, and I did not see the need to create that type of platform just yet because there was no way I would have time to develop student use of it at this point in the year.

How does one teach students the best practices for participating in social networking? Modeling responsible behavior and allowing students to be guided through a real social network would be ideal, but hardly practical in a K-8 setting. Most sites have age limits of 13 and older for users for their sites. I know some teachers have created a Ning for their own private network with students, but for me to create a Ning to be used with only 8th graders whom I see for 45 minutes per week and already find it difficult to manage the topics I do have, it seemed it would be an extreme effort for little return, at least for this year. From

The Ning Platform is not directed to children younger than 13 and is offered only to users 13 years of age or older. If you are under 13 years old, please do not use the Ning Platform. Any person who provides their personal information through the Ning Platform represents to us that they are 13 years of age or older.

Because of the readings presented in this week’s module for the EDIM514 course, I spent a great deal of time watching the videos for the K-12 online conference that featured the Taking It Global social network. I felt that there were actually a number of ways this network could be used for collaboration in a variety of themes such as culture, environment, and especially technology.  TIG regisI had to first create my own membership in TIG before I could be an educator on the network. In order to create an actual class, however, you had to get past step 3 by paying a class enrollment fee of $29. The K-12 online videos presented an obviously expired code for three months free trial, but search as I might, I could find no current offer for the same. The person who made the presentation after several years at the head of the organization is no longer in that position.

I did not go past step 3 and pay the fee. I am not averse to spending my own money for worthwhile projects, and I often do. But at this point there seemed to be a great learning curve in actually using this site to its potential. I also scoured the fine print for evidence that students under 13 could or could not participate but I only found evidence that it was okay to enroll students under 18 without divulging personal information, and that it was possible to create a completely private classroom environment. Perhaps the fact that it is a Canadian site, they do not consider the same privacy laws regarding children as we do in the US.

Global DreamersThe other site I investigated was one that had been mentioned in a previous Wilkes class: Global Dreamers. This site seemed to offer collaboration and communication in a safe environment, but just like TIG, the information was outdated, and it seems the activity in the network has decreased greatly or even ceased altogether.

But why would we create a completely private classroom environment? If students are too young to interact with others outside the walls of their school, they are too young for social networking. For what purpose would I go to the trouble of creating this private classroom for them to interact among themselves, which they already do? The lessons they need to learn regarding safety in social networking can be presented without creating an entire social network for private use.

During these last few weeks in technology classes we have been discussing Internet Safety. The topic is adjusted based on the grade level (3-8). My goal for this unit of study correlates with ISTE’s NETS:

5. Digital Citizenship
Students understand human, cultural, and societal issues related to technology and practice legal and ethical behavior.

a. advocate and practice safe, legal, and responsible use of information and technology.
b. exhibit a positive attitude toward using technology that supports collaboration, learning, and productivity.
c. demonstrate personal responsibility for lifelong learning.
d. exhibit leadership for digital citizenship.

To meet Standard 5a for Digital Citizenship I used as the starting point a PowerPoint unit created for a previous Wilkes class. Each topic in the unit (Social Networking, Email Scams, Online Shopping, Posting Images Online, Cyberbullying) led to a Discovery Streaming video as a start. From there we are using class discussion and other resources such as YouTube videos or websites to add information to the topic.

In the sub-category of social networking and using caution when relaying information about yourself, I  used  information on the Facebook Privacy Policy as well as the following videos for upper grade students:

Internet Safety   (how children can be misled online)
Internet Safety – A Cautionary Tale (how easily personal info can be found)
Digital Dossier (how much info is available and what you don’t have to fill out on forms)

as well as this informational site: Social Networking Sites – Safety Tips for Tweens and Teens

There is a built in quiz in the PowerPoint slide show, but I plan to also follow up with student blog posts where they write their own tips about safety on the key areas discussed. This would be another form of assessment in addition to the video quiz.

I do feel that with the current tools I am using to develop awareness of social interaction on the Internet (blogging, wikispaces with discussion and wikimail) as well as direct instruction in intellectual property rights and Internet Safety issues, I feel that I am providing enough information on social networking without actually creating and using a specific social networking platform in our school. The above mentioned lessons are currently being used and it is having an impact on students and thankfully some are re-thinking their behavior on social sites. When time permits I may investigate the TIG option or Edmodo platform, but for now, I have enough resources to meet the objectives of standard 5a Digital Citizenship and to help my students to grow in safe, legal, and responsible use of technology.

Final Reflection: Respect, Ethics, and the Rainforest

The course in Digital Media has come to a close and the final project, a Google Earth tour, has been submitted, hopefully intact. For this project I chose the topic, Rainforests of the World, as that is a topic for third grade science and I have done rainforest activities with the third grade in the past. The Diocesan curriculum for science at that grade level includes:

B. Plants
1. Life cycles
2. Adaptations for survival
3. Populations
4. Communities

  • Producers
  • Grassland
  • Ocean
  • Rainforest

The most difficult part of this project for me was actually coming up with the subject matter. Not being a “regular” classroom teacher, I have my hands in everyone’s curriculum, but needed to search through Diocesan guidelines for topics that would lend themselves to this medium and become a learning activity from which students could truly benefit.

There is much in this topic of rainforests that lends itself to developing respectful and ethical minds. Very often when we think of rainforests we think of the vegetation, the animal life, but do we think of the human inhabitants of these regions as well? In this virtual field trip the students not only learn of rainforest layers and beautifully exotic flora and fauna, but they have a chance to glimpse totally different lifestyles and to compare them with their own. They have the opportunity to appreciate the similarities and differences among people of very different cultures and realize that children all over the world are basically the same.

There are two forms of assessment included. One is the ongoing writing activity of posting thoughts to a blog. My third graders have taken to blogging with great enthusiasm. Keyboarding skills are always an issue but keeping the requirement to four sentences allows them a chance to review what they learned without becoming extremely frustrated. (We do work on keyboarding in third grade.) The other is a Discovery Quiz Builder activity at the conclusion of the trip when we return home.

Although my regular classroom experience was always with upper grade students, I have come to learn about the reading struggles of students in the primary grades as their (former) Spanish teacher and now technology teacher.  In order for the struggling readers to get as much out of the experience as possible, I have embedded AudioPal recordings so they can listen to the text being read to them if they choose. One downside of this free tool is that the recordings can only be 60 seconds in length, so in some cases I feel that I may have been speaking too quickly. I had to sometimes have more that one player on a page for that reason. The only other audio included was sounds of the rainforest which was optional for listening. Other audio could have included sounds of various animals but of course there is always the possibility that too much of that can cause a distraction.

On the topic of images, I decided to use a customized placemark rather than an external image in an overlay. Since not every stop focused on animals, or plants, or people, there leaf1would have been no suitable image theme, so I created a leaf image to symbolize the overall theme. I regret that before I began Photoshopping the leaf I neglected to note the source, so there is no actual citation for the original leaf in the Google Earth file. I created 6 leaves with the numbers 1-6 for the stops on the tour, and removed the white background. Then they were uploaded as customized placemarks. The remaining images in the project can be found within the contents of each place mark either as a static image or a linked image. To expand this project further, and I hope to do this before we actually use it in the classroom, I would insert additional links to images of plants and animals. Time constraints caused me to use just a smattering of external links for images. I am planning to insert a few more images of the more unusual species.

I stayed with a basic format for each location, using HTML coding within each placemark’s properties. One way I could improve on the geographic understanding would be to insert an image within the placemark of a world map with that particular location shaded. I could create my own but that would entail adding my own images rather than hyperlinks, and there was the danger that the images would not stay packaged with the project. I may do this locally however.

There were a few moments of panic when Google Earth crashed in the midst of inserting links and media. Was it my computer, or was the application protesting media overload? I learned early on to SAVE frequently after losing some of my hard work after a crash.

By completing the activities during this virtual field trip I am hoping my students will develop a sense of respect for the other cultures and especially children of the world. We are not better, only different, and we are alike in so many ways. They can also develop an appreciation for the beauty and diversity in nature. In addition, even at a young age, they can begin to develop that ethical mind whereby they begin to look beyond their own needs, and begin to make choices that are right for the planet, and right for humanity in general.

At the conclusion of this course I have three projects that I can actually use with my students that will engage them in authentic 21st century learning. I have also grown so much in my personal learning, not only from the readings but also from the sharing of a group of very hard-working and dedicated professionals who it is obvious have the best interests of their students at heart. I hope that I have made some small contribution in return.

Added Friday, October 16 (6:45 p.m.): Upon reviewing the .kmz file that had been uploaded via Moodle, I caught an error. I inserted the same audio recording in two places and missed the Amazon recording entirely. The link to the project on this page has the corrected version. I found that if I tried to send a second Audio Pal recording to the same email address, it would only keep the first one. I used half a dozen different email addresses to get them all; however it could be that after retrieving one recording, deleting that email would allow the new one to come through. Thankfully I had not emptied my trash and was able to find the correct audio clip without having to record again. Another lesson learned…Don’t be quick to empty the trash!


Amazon Rainforest Treetops. Corbis. 2009.
Discovery Education. 14 October 2009

Children of the Amazon. 14 October 2009

Environmental science and conservation news

Mission, Model, and Mirror

As the Digital Media course draws to a close, it is time to reflect upon the Five Minds put forth by Howard Gardner and how these minds can influence our current and future teaching practices, and in reality, our current and future roles as global citizens.

What is my mission as an educator? I feel that cellist Yo-Yo Ma, in his response to Gardner’s question about what constitutes good work (Chapter 6, The Ethical Mind) really laid out a formula for the teaching profession. To paraphrase:

– to perform as excellently as possible
– to be able to work together with others and develop common understanding and trust
– to pass on knowledge, skill, understanding, and orientation to succeeding generations so that the joy of learning may endure

I have taken liberties with his statement about music and applied it to teaching, but I feel the idea of “good work” spans all professions. I will take that a step further and say that, as a Catholic school educator, it is inherent upon me to model Christ-like action to all I meet. From our school mission statement come these words:

Welcome to Our Lady of Perpetual Help School, educating Pre-School to Eighth Grade students in the Diocese of Allentown, Pennsylvania.  We are proud of our school and glad to have you here. We strongly believe that close cooperation between the school and the home is essential in promoting the education of the children entrusted to our care.

At Our Lady we strive to maintain a caring and peaceful environment in which all students can feel comfortable. We believe that this atmosphere will facilitate learning and nurture respect among students, teachers, and parents.

In his remarks on the ordering of the Five Minds, Gardner states that  “From the beginning one must begin by creating a respectful atmosphere toward others. In the absence of civility, other educational goals prove infinitely harder to achieve.”

With such a noble, and at times daunting, mission for educators, to whom do we turn for our models? Who are the leaders in our quest to meet the needs of today’s students, the students who need 21st century skills developed and nurtured with 21st century tools by educators with a 21st century mindset?

We cannot operate in isolation, relying solely on our own knowledge and creativity to meet the needs of our students. And so we develop our Personal Learning Networks, our groups of fellow educators, leaders in the field, gurus as it were, from whom we learn about the latest and greatest. These individuals point us to the cutting (or bleeding) edge, are often the first to try the tools or offer new ways to use old tools, who are willing to give it a go and let us know how it went. As the network expands and we participate in sharing opportunities, we ourselves occasionally may be the ones who offer a new twist, a fresh outlook, a way around a stumbling block.

Being an old-timer, I am reminded of a shampoo commercial  that showed a girl talking about a shampoo, and she told two friends, and they told two friends, and so on and so on…  And just like viral video, the good ideas spread. The more groups you are part of, the more opportunities you have to get in on what is happening. How have I picked up on “the buzz”? What constitutes my PLN?

I must start with the DEN. The Discovery Educator Network was the door-opener for badge-100x100_4me. Back in January of 2006 I applied to be a STAR educator and had some correspondence with one Lance Rougeux, who decided that I should not withdraw my application just because I felt I might not be able to do all that was expected of me. I am very glad he took a chance on me. Attending my first PETE&C that February was like opening the door from Kansas to Oz. There was no turning back.

In addition to the fabulous learning opportunities afforded by the DEN, I have a blogroll listed here that is just a microcosm of the ed tech blogosphere. I must admit, however, that during the school year, and especially now taking a course, my opportunity to read my favorite bloggers’ thoughts has shrunk due to time constraints. I find it hard to choose just one to recommend. If I had to narrow the list I suppose I could choose two that have expanded my horizons more than any others. First is Steve Dembo’s Teach42 blog. Steve is known as a guru of Web2.0 tools, but he is passionate about empowering teachers and improving education. His post on Feet on the Ground or Head in the Clouds is a great example of what he is about and what he tries to do. An interesting conversation developed in the comment section as well. And I truly do agree with him that little tricks and tools may be just the thing to get a teacher energized, get the kids excited and engaged, and it may not solve the mysteries of the universe, but if it makes a difference in some classroom for some child, then why not give it a try?

And if I had the chance to get an autograph or choose someone with whom I would love to have conversation over dinner, it would be Vicki Davis, aka Cool Cat Teacher. I could write several paragraphs on what I have learned by reading her posts. She shares the successes and failures, the tips for beginners because she remembers being one herself. She never lowers her standards and expects the best from her students and gives her best in return. How she finds time to sleep I have no idea, but it is obvious from her posts that her family comes first. I loved her post about burning three different colored candles, each representing a different facet of her life, and if one was burned down farther than the others she knew things were not balanced in her life. Can’t find the actual post, but it was very thought-provoking.

So now when I look into the mirror (the dreaded mirror test?) I must ask myself if I am living up to my potential as an educator. Am I producing “good work” and encouraging others to do the same, both students and fellow teachers? Some days it is hard to motivate, and sometimes teachers are harder to motivate than students. And yet, aren’t we all students? Shouldn’t we all be life-long learners? That is the underlying theme of my Blackberry Alley blog. I began as a student, and went on to become a teacher, who has realized that she will always be a student, even as she continues to have students of her own. What I see in the mirror needs a little work (and I don’t mean just the wrinkles) but there is some promise.  As I continue to develop my “five minds” perhaps I can be a model for my students of respect, good work ethic, and a touch of creativity. With periodic innoculations from my PLN as well as my students, I may yet pass muster.

Man Plays Cello. Jupiterimages Corporation. 2006.
Discovery Education. 13 October 2009

Buyer, Elizabeth. mirror.jpg. May 2005. Pics4Learning. 13 Oct 2009 <>

Around the World in
(One Hundred)Eighty Days

What a wonderful opportunity we have as educators today to help our students develop a “respectful mind” with the many possibilities that exist for reaching out to students around the globe.

Currently my students, especially the older ones, are becoming excited about communicating with other students through blogging. Though the majority of the students participating in the Bloggers’ Challenge come from USA, Australia, New Zealand, and Canada, there is still a sprinkling of other countries around the world. There are so many avenues to explore with this. We are working on being “respectful” commenters, and addressing the writer’s thoughts and goals, rather than noticing their misspellings or bad grammar (and of course aren’t WE the perfect ones…now that deserves an LOL if anything does.)

I have made connections with a third grade teacher in Saskatchewan, Canada. Her students, like mine, are new bloggers. We are planning to work together on some shared activities, though we are both feeling our way at first. I have communicated with her (Leah Dewhurst) via Skype and email and so far we are giving each other time White_tailed_deer_in_Saskatchewan__Canada___mediumto get the students adjusted to the blog site, but hope to try VoiceThread in the near future. There is so much my students can learn, not only about Canada, but about the native people to that area, the climate, even variations in the English language. We are all excited at what may unfold during the year. I only have one web cam, but I hope to make use of it during our interaction with the Canadian class, which is 2 hours behind us time wise.

Another project that would help in cultural understanding with our Canadian friends is creating a digital story about our school and our routines, our town and local attractions. That was an activity mentioned in the Julene Reed post, and one we could certainly take on. Sharing this with students in another country and having them share with us would be enriching, not only for the students, but for us as teachers as well. Students first instincts may be to laugh at something that looks totally different than what they are used to. But that reaction could lead to some interesting discussions, and the chance to appreciate that there may be no best way, just many different ways.

Ms. Dewhurst adds much more media to her posts than I do, so I will be trying to learn some new tools to use as well. This Thursday, October 8, I plan to take my third graders on a little “trip” to her posts from this school year, such as her post on Elders that visited their classroom or field trips they have taken. We will discuss things that we can share with our soon to be Canadian friends.  I am at a disadvantage in this situation since Ms. Dewhurst is their regular classroom teacher and I see my third graders for 45 minutes per week. Therefore, this is a project in which I need to enlist their homeroom teacher as a partner, so that they get the full benefits of this interaction. I cannot be a world unto myself in the computer lab, and I shouldn’t be. What I need to do is support their curriculum and so the scope of this project will widen as the third grade teacher comes (is dragged) on board.

A_menorah_in_Jerusalem__Israel___mediumAfter following the link to the Global Dreamers Webquest, I am anxious to discuss with the 6th grade teacher how we can get involved with this class from Israel. I need to spend some time reviewing the possibilities on that site, but with the sixth grade studying ancient civilizations in the Middle East and studying the Israelites in the Old Testament in their religion class, there is so much potential for increasing their awareness of this region of the world and the culture of young people who turn out to have much more in common with them than they may imagine.

One sixth grader wrote:

Hi, my name is Ronya K.

I like a lot  of  rock and rock punk bands like Linkin Park, Simple Plan, Paramore, Nickelback, System of a down, Blink 182 and fall out boy.  I like to see a lot  of movies and ride scary books. My mum is a single parent  and I see my dad to times in year and I miss him but it is the reality. I’ve got two big sisters one is a broadcaster at MTV, her name is Bitanya and the other one is an actor and model, her name is Nizhna.

I like skateboarding but my mum thinks that skateboarding is dangerous.Bye!

I am surprised to note how much personal information about the students exists on that site – first and last names, photos, even parents names and in the case of one girl I saw, her street as well as her town. We are much more guarded with our students’ privacy. That would be something I would love to discuss with the teacher running the project.

All in all I am excited about being more aware of the opportunities for global collaboration in which my students might engage. Perhaps these activities we are involved in will help to develop the “respectful mind” in these young people. As Gardner notes, “During early years of school, such issues [value of respect, cost of respect, cost of disrespect] are best approached through experiences in which members of different groups work together on common projects, and come to know one another first hand.” My hope is that the seeds of respect for cultural differences will take root (along with those seeds of creativity).

Side note: At the time I wrote this post I was basing it on the reading assignments listed in the introduction for this week’s module, namely the Julene Reed post and “The Respectful Mind”. It occurred to me afterward that the references to “ethical mind” meant that chapter was part of the reading although it was not listed. Hence, no references to that chapter exist in this post, though my discussion comments do reflect both chapters.

Image Citations

A menorah in Jerusalem, Israel.. IRC. 2005.
Discovery Education. 6 October 2009

White-tailed deer in Saskatchewan, Canada.. IRC. 2005.
Discovery Education. 6 October 2009

Off to See the Wizard of ‘OG

My first attempt at a glog! Reflection comments are below.

The purpose of this glog is two-fold. First, I hope to use it as a learning module for fifth grade students. Their prescribed curriculum in social studies calls for a unit on the United States Constitution based on the Diocese of Allentown curriculum guidelines for grade 5:

A. The Articles of Confederation
B. The Constitutional Convention
C. The Constitution
a. The Executive Branch
b. The Legislative Branch
c. The Judicial Branch
d. Know duties and responsibilities of each branch

and I know that the teacher of that subject struggles to just make it through the Revolutionary War by the end of the school year. Hopefully this activity will fill in the gap in the curriculum, and perhaps take off some of the pressure the teacher feels to rush through some topics.

Second, I hope to use it as a model for students to create their own glog. I have set up accounts for each of my technology classes, and hope to have students using their own log in during this school year. I would like to start with seventh grade using Glogster to create a standard project in a whole new way. Each year the students in that grade study Latin America and Canada, and are assigned a country on which to report. We began by making travel brochures, then a few years ago switched to travel videos using PhotoStory. I can see that a glog would be a wonderful vehicle for them to share information about a country in a unique way. Their glogs could then be posted on their individual blog pages and shared with the class.

I struggled a bit with the Discovery Builders. I lost some work and had to re-do when I switched back and forth between tabs making adjustments. I would love to see a SAVE option on the bottom of each page for that reason. I would have preferred having the link I added to the video segments right in the text/instruction area instead of at the bottom of the page. I didn’t see how to make that happen, so I created my own hyperlink to the video within each set of instructions.

Unfortunately the builder site, or perhaps all of Discovery Streaming, had the “wrench” symbol up as I began to write my post and I do plan to make some adjustments on the Quiz Builder included in the project. I was not seeing my response for the correct and incorrect answers when I took the quiz. Also, I need to figure out how to add the video links as review. Even though I pre-selected the video content, it seemed not to be available when I wanted to add the video as a review component and I needed to search for it all over again, with My Content not being available as a search option. It is obvious I need to spend more time honing my Builder skills. I have also noticed that the glog embedded here does not show the background wall as does the one on the Glogster site.

I signed up for a Glogster account quite a while ago, but at that time decided that there were too many potentially inappropriate side paths for students to travel down, and so I put it aside as a tool. With the coming of the EDU version, I have considered it again, and was able to learn more about it through the Digital Media course. One thing I need to explore further, however, is that clicking on a “friend” and then saying “Next” can still bring up something questionable. I will need to investigate this further.

The incorporation of video content as an instructional tool, with the visually stimulating format of a glog, can not only keep a student’s interest, but also allow for the student to begin to think and plan projects of his own. There would be much to discuss with such a project: Including copyright approved images, keeping within a theme, having a cohesive layout (I am still not comfortable with the “clutter” of the glogster page, but I will learn to deal with that!) and of course, quality content overall. I believe the students will be excited to leave their creative mark and jump into such a project eagerly. Little do they know they will be synthesizing information from a variety of sources, while their “creative minds” are flexing their muscles.

Added Saturday morning, 10/3 – I have gone back today to try to see what was wrong with my Quiz Builder activity. I cannot see anywhere that I need to select to have the correct response comment I entered (Good job!) and the incorrect response comment directing them to review the video and have it show up during the quiz. When I took the quiz as a student these comments did not appear. It does say you may not edit questions if anyone has taken the quiz. I also am still frustrated not seeing where to add my pre-selected videos in the appropriate place for each question. Help!

I Create, Therefore I Am

I have to say that I am excited. Having been around the block a few times in my years as an educator, I think I sometimes get a little jaded and perhaps always see a down side to every up. (Yeah, it’s a great tool, but how can I fit it in? How can I find time to master it? My twenty-four hours are full. My teachers will never try it.) So, when I say I am excited about something, I mean it.

I am excited because my kids are excited. Not everyone of them, but so many. It didn’t take much, but what it took was allowing them to be “content creators”. Not being so regimented. Letting them know that they had a say in something and could create an identity. The simple little blogging site we have been using has opened up a whole new world for them, and therefore for me. “Please, sir, I want some more.”

This is our third year with David Warlick’s Classblogmeister site. I was timid at first. I waded out a little farther the second year, trying to think of some topics for the kids to write about, to help them understand what blogging was, even as I was learning myself barely a step ahead of them. But they were far less fearful than I. Last year there were a few students, almost always girls, who would blog when the spirit moved them, writing short stories, poetry, anything. Fussing over their page backgrounds and font colors, although the choices are somewhat limited on the site. I was pleased that a few were doing it for fun rather than for a grade.

Enter year three. Since this blog of mine is hosted by Edublogs, I received the notice of the Bloggers’ Challenge and decided it was something we might be able to handle. My goal in setting up a class blog originally had been to establish a platform by which classroom teachers could have students blog across the curriculum. The “home base” so to speak would be the tech class, and they only needed one username and one password. In two years time only two teachers have ventured to assign a post. But despite that, I felt it was a way for students to grow as writers and so I continued with or without the other teachers.

Thanks to the Bloggers’ Challenge, one of the first things they did this year was to create an avatar to represent themselves on their blogs. The lightbulb appears over my head when I see that…they love it. They absolutely love it. A simple little thing like creating a character that could be cool, or silly, or wild…green mohawk, guitar in one hand, cell phone in the other; little microphone-clutching divas and tiny sports figures. But they owned it, they controlled it, they created it. (one rule: no cigarettes or weapons)

They also now could create a title for their blog page. Why didn’t I think of doing that before? From “City Boy” to “Red Herring” to “Boulevard of Broken Dreams”, they find another way to express themselves.  But what they want most of all is to know that other people are reading what they write (and here is where I make my case for spelling and grammar and punctuation). Almost every one of them listed in their first post that their goals were to reach out to other students, learn about them, communicate with them, have those students visit and read their blog posts, leave comments. In scanning the long list of challenge participants, younger ones with their teachers and older ones (ages 14-17) who entered on their own because they have their own personal blogs and want to communicate and want others to find them and read their thoughts, I have come to realize that they all seek the same thing. To create something, and to have someone notice that they have created something, and hopefully to receive feedback to show that their creation has value.

The  Pew study (Pew Internet & American Life Project – “Teens and Social Media”) shows that it is girls who dominate the blogosphere,  with a strong correlation between blogging and other content creation among teens. In my students grades 6 through 8 I see the eagerness of the girls surpasses the boys, and they are already going beyond the scope of the project. After learning how to insert a widget into the sidebar (their choices were a flag counter or ClustrMap) one girl was clever enough to figure out how to insert a second widget, a virtual pet, just by reading other student blogs and noticing what others had done. And since I was absolutely fine with that, the floodgates opened and they began searching for more ways to individualize.

Our latest venture is commenting: how to comment constructively, how to continue a conversation, how to make it easy for others to come back to your blog page. Their hopes for many visitors from all over the world may not be met, but perhaps being permitted some freedom to showcase their thoughts, their artwork, their favorite websites or games, will make them begin to think outside of the box in other areas also. Perhaps their enthusiasm will even move a few teachers to get involved. When you teach third graders to enter a one sentence blog post and see it on “their page” and then find one of them has gone home and written 5 posts on his own and is requesting publishing (so what if 2 of them are jokes)…well I can’t help feeling that something good is going on.

Avatar images created by students using AvatarPortraitMaker.

Planting Seeds of Creativity

In the discussion forum for this week’s class, based on Chapter 4 of Gardner’s Five Minds for the Future, I raised the issue of allowing for creativity within the core curriculum, even if art and music classes may be receiving less emphasis in the curriculum. In a sense, what I was referring to bears more resemblance to “self-expression” rather than “creating” in the sense that Gardner uses the term. Students in our classes may not be “ruffling the contours of a genre” by any stretch, but perhaps we need to allow them to feel that they might color out of the lines if they so choose without experiencing the repercussion of a lowered grade. We must of course, provide the baseline of literacy and a solid foundation in the disciplines, but within the disciplines, do our students feel that they have an avenue for creative expression?

When I was a junior high math teacher, I was occasionally faced with students, and one particular very intelligent young man comes to mind, who chose to solve the “word problems” by their own means, or perhaps entirely in their heads, rather than set down the formula and neatly balance both sides of the equation. Process and solution were both important I thought, and so I insisted that each student demonstrate, at least on occasion, that he knew how to set up the good old equation. Whether that was the true means by which the student arrived at the solution, I might not have known. There is something to be said for the organized approach, and in the middle years, perhaps insisting that the standard methods are at least learned, if not necessarily followed, will provide a foundation that will serve the student well as he or she continues in that discipline. There may be only one correct response to how many square feet of turf are needed to cover the football field, but how one arrives at that solution can vary. Gardner does state that “only through the honing of a discipline would genuinely creative options ultimately emerge.” The foundation, the basics, need to be in place, before one ventures off the beaten path.

One of the things I have come to realize in this course that I believe will serve me well in the next one, is to look ahead and see what the readings and requirements are over all, get the broader picture first perhaps. I spent much time in the forum developing my thoughts on creativity and how blogging in the classroom was such a great tool, and I do believe that. Well this week’s “in the classroom” leads to next week’s “outside the classroom” and perhaps that is where the blogging best fits. Did I see that was where we were headed before now? Oh no, I chattered merrily on. (We blog IN class…therefore I saw it as fitting but now I think it should have been left to the following week.) I also threw out a link to Sir Ken Robinson’s TED video on creativity without realizing it is one of the upcoming class resources. Lesson learned…look ahead.

Therefore the tool I am recommending as a vehicle for creativity IN the classroom is digital storytelling. The application I have used most often has been PhotoStory, although MovieMaker does have more features there is a steeper learning curve and having limited time I usually opt for PhotoStory. For the past several years students have been completing a digital story assignment and then at the end of the year I would burn it to CD and they would take home their finished product. (I do mean “end of the year”….some are literally walking out the door on the last day with the CD in hand. Then there is the dreaded “I will mail it to you over the summer…ouch!) I have now worked on some form of a storytelling assignment with grades 4 through 8, and last year, all of those grades.

This does not mean digital stories cannot be shared with a wider audience, but when the stories involve personal photos, we are very careful where they go. And I must confess that even when the eighth grade completed vodcasts on earth science topics two years ago, I was nervous about posting them on our website for fear I had missed some copyrighted images. One of the aspects of teaching students about digital storytelling I most enjoy is finding stories created by others and watching them together, some created by students, some by adults, and then discussing how the stories made us feel. One story on Bernajean Porter’s Digitales site that spoke to my heart was “My Mother’s Socks“. Perhaps it was the fact that I had four sisters. When I first saw the story my mother was alive. I have gone back recently and watched it again. I tried to explain to the students why that story spoke to me, but it wasn’t easy. But I encouraged them to watch other stories and see which ones spoke to their hearts. I personally feel that in order to tell a good story you need to have heard many good stories yourself, or in the words of one site – Listen Deeply, Tell Stories. Other sites with digital storytelling resources are Joe Brennan’s Discovery Blog and the Digital Storytelling portal. We use our class wiki to provide resources, step by step instructions, and rubrics. I have to admit though, that it is a difficult concept to teach. Perhaps because a good story has a creativity that one cannot teach, but instead just nurture the seeds of. All we can do is help our students find the stories that are inside them.

Cone on Horsetail plant. Paul Fuqua. 2003.
Discovery Education. 22 September 2009