Giving NetVibes a Whirl

Two recent posts have led me in the direction of giving NetVibes a whirl in my classroom this year.  Thanks goes out to Clarence Fisher’s Constructing a Textbook and Jeff Utecht’s Netvibes in the Classroom.  I had considered setting up feeds for my classroom last year, but just never got around to it.  So this year, those two posts have been the impetus for me spending the past couple of days looking for and adding feeds to a Netvibes page for my team.

The link above takes you to what I currently have set up.  Although the URL implies it is solely for science, there are social studies feeds as well.  During the year, our four science topics are:

  • Weather/Atmosphere
  • Human Body Systems
  • Genetics
  • Physics: Forces and Motion

The science feeds I’ve selected are rather general for the most part. The feeds I have selected are:

  • The Weather Channel Blog
  • Flickr recent photos tagged clouds
  • CNN Science
  • National Geographic Science
  • BBC Science and Environment
  • New Scientist Environment
  • MSNBC Weather
  • Afrigadget

During the year, as we move to other topics I hope to update my feeds to include information from other areas.  Another item I would like to include is a science podcast of some sortthat is appropriate and relevant for middle school students.  Afrigadget is included largely because of trying to make connections between the science and social studies curricular goals, which cover:

  • Africa
  • Asia
  • Australia

My social studies teacher starts the year with Africa.  Therefore, the social studies feeds I have loaded so far are related to Africa and include two BBC podcasts:

  • BBC Africa Today podcast
  • BBC This Week in Africa podcast
  • MSNBC Africa
  • BBC Africa
  • Voice of America Africa

In addition, I will be updating the General tab with the weather from a current country of study in social studies.  That way students can compare the local weather with the weather in different regions of Africa, Asia, and Australia.

Here’s where I need some help.  Are there other news/blog feeds or podcasts that you would recommend for middle school students studying the topics listed above?  I would love to have input from some of you all so that we can find the best information available.  I haven’t even begun to tackle some of the future topics for either class.  I’m also looking for a great site that posts daily images.  I’m considering the Boston Globe’s Big Picture despite the issue of the images not coming through the RSS feed that Clarence mentions in his post.

Any and all suggestions would be appreciated!


Firing Map-Buying Teachers

This morning I saw the above slide created by Dr. Scott McLeod decrying spending money on maps and globes in this technologically enhanced world. Any of you who have spent any time reading this blog know that I am entirely a proponent of using technology in the classroom. Even in my science classroom Google Earth is a staple tool. However, the sentiment in the slide is one I cannot support, and one with which I, in fact, whole-heartedly disagree.

There are situations where a physical map or globe is an inherently better tool than a digital representation of either tool. First of all, there is something to be said for a quick, snapshot overview of the entire world. Being able to quickly point out the locations of events in world history without having to fire up Google Earth or an LCD projector is advantageous.

Similarly, should a teacher who purchases posters for their classroom wall be fired? There are tons of images available online that could be cycled through in a slideshow after all. Sometimes in a classroom, student’s minds wander. *GASP* I know this may come as a surprise to many of you out there, but it happens. If their minds are going to wander to the other places, why not fill that classroom space with educational material for them to browse? If that material includes a map of the world, so be it.

Perhaps the argument is intended to imply that spending $100 on a map was a waste of taxpayer funding when digital tools could be used for free. This is of course assuming all classrooms are equipped with a computer connected to the Internet, a projector to make the best use of Google Earth, and the bandwidth to support the use of the tools. Should those tools be available in every classroom? Absolutely! Are they? No. So we should fire a teacher who is trying to make do with the funding that is available in their situation? In a world where we are already struggling to fill classrooms with qualified teachers?

Perhaps the argument could use some re-framing.  Perhaps any teacher who ignores digital tools like Google Earth, GPS, GIS, etc should be fired.  Though I think we are still dealing with a huge percentage of teachers that are unaware of the power these tools hold for education.  If we were to fire every teacher, administrator, district personnel member, or University faculty member who ever used money to purchase something that was less than the best available, would there be enough people around to have schools?

Dr. McLeod follows up in the comments section with this:

[E]very penny you spend on the old paradigm is one less that gets spent on the hardware and/or software necessary to prepare students for real-world, relevant, authentic digital mapping and geography. I don’t think public schools should be spending their money on old paradigms. So I stand by my slide

While I agree that purchasing old model tools does take away from the funding that could be going to newer tools, I’m brought right back to my post a couple of days ago about textbooks.  They are another “old model” tool that the Legislature in our state has suggested are unnecessary and has begun to push for the return of that funding as a stop-gap budget shortfall measure.  Let’s be realistic, how much money is spent on maps and globes?  If there is a ton being spent, why are the companies asking $100 for a world map?  The maps in my current school were most likely purchased when the school was built 22 years ago.  Spending $100 on a tool that can have a 22 year lifespan (albeit outdated for a large portion of that lifespan) is not a poor investment of public funds by any means.

I encourage all of you to head over to Dangerously Irrelevant and read through the comments to this post.

Embedding Teachers

Earlier this morning, Bud Hunt posted a tweet about his plans for the first few weeks of school:Tweet Bud Hunt Embedding

Just a simple planning note, but it got me thinking. My immediate response was this:
Tweet Response to @budtheteacher

Wouldn’t it be awesome if teachers came with an embed code? Imagine, hundreds of teachers using services like uStream or LiveStream and broadcasting their classes/lessons out to the world. A student anywhere with Internet access could just grab the embed code from their favorite science, social studies, math, arts, foreign language teachers and create their own “classroom”. Beyond that, imagine a world where choosing those teachers was as simple as following folks on Twitter. Students could go in and follow the feed of a teacher where links, discussion topics, videos, Q&As were posted. Think something similar to Edmodo, but where students pick the teachers to follow rather than being enrolled in a class.

Granted at some point this would become unwieldy for the teachers as good ones could easily wind up with 100s of students following them. But imagine coupling those two ideas with students creating reflection blogs. The blog could serve as the students “assignment”, documenting the conversations and thinking shifts that would inevitably come from pooling together some of the best technology focused teachers in the world. The environment could easily be synchronous or asynchronous. Lessons could be supplemented with a tool like Elluminate to allow for discussions between groups, even on an ad hoc basis.

Now the downside is, students would have to be motivated enough to go and seek out those teachers broadcasting their lessons. But imagine the power of having many of those in your PLN as embedded teachers in your children’s lives.

Tech in 20

This year, I’m taking on a new venture in PD with our staff.  Though I’m not the tech coordinator in our building, I feel like it’s time I make a more concerted effort to share some of my tech experiences with our staff.  With that in mind, I’m implementing a program called “Tech in 20.”  I first heard about this idea from David Bill’s EduCon 2.1 session of the same title.  The idea addresses one of the major issues with teachers learning new technology tools…TIME!

Without a doubt, integrating technology takes time, something that is often not available to many teachers.  The goal of Tech in 20 is to provide staff development experiences that last no longer than 20 minutes.  These experiences are used to introduce topics to teachers and then let them explore their use in the classroom.

At our school, we have monthly technology meetings.  I found that those meetings were often being used for the introduction of tools.  I felt our time together would be better used if we could discuss ways of integrating various tools into the classroom.  Tech in 20 should help balance the two situations.

What’s The Plan?

The basic idea is to hold weekly 20 minute sessions on Thursday afternoons.  The schedule for the beginning of the year will be made in advance, then we can address tools as they come up during the school year.  I surveyed our staff at the end of last year to gauge their interest in 19 different tools.  From there, I picked the first six topics we will cover.  I believe the majority of the other tools will be covered, as well as additional tools throughout the year.

Each session will start with an overview of the tool.  I plan to show as many academic uses of the tools as possible to get the teachers thinking of ways they can use them in their classrooms.  After the overview, we will spend a short time either demonstrating the tool or having a question/answer session about possible uses/pitfalls.  Each session will have a corresponding page on a Google Site which I have set up for the program ( The session pages will have brief overviews of the tools, links to additional resources, a list of the attendees for reference by those who couldn’t make it, and a video recording of the session.

That last part is going to be interesting for me. I intend to stream out each of these sessions via  The link for the LiveStream channel is  The recordings will serve two purposes.  First, those who can’t attend or “don’t get it” can have a place to go and watch the discussion that happened during our Thursday session. Second, I hope to have some folks at other schools join us and perhaps even watch the events live with their staff.  Perhaps we’ll even reach a point where viewers pose some questions or provide some answers about how tools can be used in the classroom.

Why Am I Doing This?

There are a number of goals for this program:

  1. Meet teachers where they are – Too often, tech tools are demonstrated one time, and you either get it or you don’t.  For many teachers, the reasons to integrate a tech tool don’t manifest themselves until long after the training has ended.  Some teachers still need training on “basic” tech skills.  Providing those in 20 minute sessions means that those folks who have mastered a particular tool or topic aren’t tied into an hour long PD session that isn’t moving them forward.
  2. Just In Time – The recordings and session pages will allow teachers to revisit sessions as the year progresses. Perhaps they have no use for Twitter at the time of the Tech in 20 session, but later in the year decide they want to give it a whirl.  Going back to the session page they have a video of the session, links to additional resources, and a list of the other people who were there.  That way there are more people to help present uses than just the tech coordinator or myself 🙂
  3. Move Conversations from the Tools to the Pedagogy – There are so many tools out there, that we as teachers have no way of ever entirely keeping up.  If we spent an hour long PD session on each new tool, that would be our entire job, never getting to the point of implementing them in the classroom.  These quick sessions should allow us to cover a number of tools and get them more frequently used in the room.  That way, during our monthly meetings, we’ll be able to spend more time on discussing the best ways to implement the tools in the classroom.
  4. Keep it Simple! – With the sessions only lasting 20 minutes, much of the extraneous discussion has to be kept out. This should help us focus on the topic at hand, get the basics, and then allow teachers to explore on their own.
  5. Connect with others – Both in school, and across the county/state/country.  There are a ton of folks looking into using these tools in their classrooms, so why not connect with them and build a support group beyond our building?  The brain power of many is far greater than the brain power of just a few.  Hopefully we’ll be able to harness some of that.

So there you have it.  My basic plan for the year.  We’re planning to meet on Thursday afternoons at approximately 3:20 pm EST.  We’d love to have you join us!  Our first sessions are tentatively: Tech 101, Social Bookmarking, Blogging, Video Embedding, Senteo, Creative Commons, and Flip Video/Movie Maker software.

I’d love to have your thoughts or suggestions for the program!

Photo credit: “Clock” by Darren Hester, licensed through Creative Commons

We Don’t Need No Stinkin’ Textbooks

Well, it appears the North Carolina legislature is listening to ed tech arguments these days.  As many of you know, there are lots of folks, including myself who decry textbooks as outdated, filled with errors, and not the best use of the State’s money.  The goal of those statements is primarily to get folks to look at shifting textbook money to other pots.  For example, taking textbook funds to purchase new computers for schools, or provide staff development on using technology to find textbook replacement sites, etc.

To prove they listen to teachers, the Legislature has decided to agree with us on this point. They agree that textbooks are unnecessary, outdated, and that the money should be shifted to other pots.  Namely, back to the coffers of the State.  According to the AP summary of NC’s new budget:

Local school districts will have to decide how to cut their share of $225 million in statewide reductions in grades 4-12, either by taking money for textbooks or other pots of money, or again turning to federal stimulus funds.

Hmmm…I don’t think that’s how that argument shook out in our brains…I know it’s not what I had in mind.

IANs: Hook, Line, Sinker vs. In/Through/Out

I’ve noticed a lot of traffic on my site lately has been about Interactive Notebooks.  Since that’s the case, I’m tossing out a post about something I’m doing differently this year regarding my notebooks.  In the past, I have set up my notebooks for students to learn science “hook, line, and sinker.”  What did this mean in practice in the notebook?:

  • Hooks – The final section of students 5 subject notebook was set aside for Hooks.  These are introductory activities that either review previous material, or preview the day’s material. I had students divide their pages in half, giving them four blocks across a two page spread. Hooks were only assigned Mon-Thurs. with Friday being reserved for reviewing material, getting information from absences, etc.
  • Lines – These were right hand pages for class activities.  These could have been for class notes, hand-outs, lab procedures, etc.  Lines were the most structured of the activities we completed in class.
  • Sinkers – These were the student selected activities for processing their Lines.  These were done on left hand pages to give students a two page spread for their daily learning.

Pros: Dedicated section for introductory activities.  Highly organized.  Full pages for class information and student processing.

Cons: Left/Right orientation confusing for some students. Monday – Thursday doesn’t work well for shortened school weeks.  Difficult to connect initial conception with class activities and final understanding.  Important information occasionally “lost” in Hooks section.


  • All student work occurs on two-page spreads.
  • In – Top of left hand page, serves same purpose as Hook activities above
  • Through – Serves same purpose as Lines above
  • Out – Serves same purpose as Sinkers, completed on left hand page below the “In” activity

Pros: Allows students to easily compare their initial conception of a topic to their eventual understanding.

Cons: Limited space for responses on both “In” and “Out” activities.

This year, I’ll be giving the In, Through, Out set-up a run through. I love the idea of my students being able to see the changes in their thinking easily.  I think the limited space will be an adjustment, but can easily be overcome with some experience.  This also will help prevent me feeling the need to have a “Hook” question every Mon-Thurs, despite their being lab days where we aren’t initially in the notebook.  Anyone out there have other strategies than these two??

MSP2 Tech Talk Interactive Notebooks

On July 29th, I moderated the first Tech Talk for MSP2 using Elluminate via This was the first of MSP2’s planned Tech Talks. We had approximately 19 people attend the session.

During the session, I discussed some of the basics of getting started with Interactive Notebooks in the classroom. Below you will find the presentations files I used during the session, the ShareTab link with 12 pages related to Interactive Notebooks, and the link to the full audio/video recording of the session.

I would love any feedback on the session or information, questions, or suggestions. Thanks for checking it out!

Elluminate Recording Archive

Interactive Notebook ShareTab